Evan and Shea Mirzai, Writers of “Beauty Pageant”
There is no denying it: Evan and Shea Mirzai are funny.
Speaking to the brothers is a whirlwind of movie references, one liners and one-upmanship. The twin writers have managed to hit the coveted Black List an incredible three times, this year with Beauty Pageant, a comedic two-hander about warring stage mothers. In some ways this dynamic is reflected in their relationship. “In a way we’re in competition with each other,” Evan says, “which makes us better writers.”
The Mirzai Brothers grew up in Riverside, California, also known, in their words, as one of the meth capitals of America. “Riverside was meant to be the original setting of Breaking Bad,” Evan says. “Tax credits moved it to Albuquerque.”
As kids they dreamed of becoming famous and moving to Hollywood. They would write together after school, and in the fifth grade adapted The Hobbit into a one-hour comedic play that met with a rapturous response. “We thought ‘this is really fun,’” Evan says of the experience. “We’re going to do this forever.”
The brothers didn’t write their first script together until after they had moved to Hollywood. After graduating from UC Irvine, they took the little bit of money they had saved working part time jobs and got an apartment in downtown LA. Unfortunately their arrival in Hollywood coincided with the Writers Strike, and employment was scarce across all industries. They decided to use the time to write their first spec scripts. At first they wrote apart, trying out different genres like sci fi and Westerns. Evan eventually landed a job at Gersh in the mailroom and worked his way up to Feature Lit coordinator, while Shea began working in development. Finally they decided to write something together, a romantic comedy called Doppelgangers about a guy who hires his twin brother to dump his girlfriend. After passing the script to a creative executive they met at a bar, the screenplay started to get buzz, and was their first to hit the Black List.
“That was the first of the best days of our lives,” Evan says. “We started getting calls, and had people contacting us about representation. It was awesome.”
But the script ultimately didn’t sell, so Evan and Shea sat down and wrote another one. “We read every script we could get out hands on to learn the craft,” Shea says. “Being a good writer means being a good reader. That’s a really good quote if you want to put that in there.” I mention Stephen King is also fond of saying that. “We’re not familiar with his work,” Shea deadpans, “but we’ll look into it.”
Their next script was an R-rated action comedy, Diablo Run, their second script to hit the Black List. This effort got them an agent at Resolution in Martin Spencer (who later moved to Paradigm and still reps the brothers), financial backing for the film, and a manager, Allen Fischer, at Principato Young. Diablo Run also got them a sit-down meeting with Jason Bateman and his production company, which definitely felt like progress. “We thought okay, we’ve broken through, but what we really need now is a sale.”
So they wrote another script, a raunchy female R-rated comedy called Beauty Pageant, which landed them on this year’s Black List for a third time.
“We decided to write a female-driven comedy, because obviously, when you think of female comedy, you think of two hairy male twins,” Evan says (note: Shea would like it noted for the record that they are not that hairy.)
Now the brothers are on a roll with lots of projects in the pipeline. So what are some of the challenges of working within the comedy genre?
Shea says: “When we were trying to break in we were always told that comedy is too hard, that there’s no foreign audience. But if you look at the biggest openers you’ve got Identity Thief, Bad Teacher, The Heat, and Horrible Bosses. Hard R-rated comedies normally open big.”
“We also get told our work is too unsympathetic,” Evan says. “Our leads weren’t likeable enough, or they were jerks. I like to bring up that the most successful comedy sitcom of all time is Seinfeld, and those people are total assholes to each other. Audiences like watching crazy situations with crazy people. Not all comedy needs to be ‘lovey dovey.’ Comedy can be mean and rude too.”
Diablo Run is now fully financed by Voltage who are looking for a studio partner for domestic distribution. So what keeps the brothers motivated in such a challenging industry?
“We’re desperately needy for attention,” Evan says. “We basically act as if we are living in front of an audience. We’re addicted to making people laugh. We also have a crazy drive to do this, and a huge fear of failure.”
The Mirzai Brothers are definitely an example of hard work, determination and persistence paying off.
“I know it’s a stereotype,” Shea says, “but don’t give up. The biggest disappointment you will ever have is the one within yourself if you do.”
Follow Evan and Shea on Twitter: @Shea_Butter and @Evan_Almighty